Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy St. John Bosco Feast Day!

I'm a firm believer that we don't chose Saints, the Saints choose us. One of the Saints that has recently befriended my family is St. John Bosco. He's come to the rescue for my frustration about a lack of obedience in my kids and my general lack of meekness in my own soul.

So far I'm 3 for 3 in producing extremely strong willed, spirited children.
(Jon thinks Baby Tess is more laid back, but considering that she almost died on me in infancy, I refuse to count her yet as my "easy" baby).

I love St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. I love St. Francis Cabrini. Their gentle method of loving discipline called to my heart. But they didn't quite do it for me.

Enter St. John Bosco. The Saint of Juvenile Delinquents! Surely if St. John Bosco could advocate the "preventative method" of discipline as the right one for children recently released prison, then I've got a harder time arguing that this gentle method won't work for my strong-willed brood.

This passage from the Divine Office is made me cry when I first read it last week. It's a far, far off goal--but I'm committed to making it a reality with Christ's help.

(Reading from Divine Office Jan 31, from a letter by St. John Bosco, priest)

"My sons, in my long experience very often I had to be convinced of this great truth. It is easier to become angry than to restrain oneself, and to threaten a boy than to persuade him. Yes, indeed, it is more fitting to be persistent in punishing our own impatience and pride than to correct the boys. We must be firm but kind, and be patient with them. . .

See that no one finds you motivated by impetuosity or willfulness. It is difficult to keep clam when administering punishment, but this must be done if we are to keep ourselves from showing off our authority or spilling out our anger. . .

They are our sons, and so in correcting their mistakes we must lay aside all anger and restrain it so firmly that it is extinguished entirely.

There must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future, as is fitting for real fathers who are eager for real correction and improvement.

In serious matters it is better to beg God humbly than to send forth a flood of words that will only offend the listeners and have no effect on those who are guilty."

St. John Bosco, pray for us!


  1. Wow, amazing quote!
    Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. I find this area - the sorting out my own sins of anger and impatience and seperating them from the need to provide firm, consistent, and loving discipline - to be a great struggle in my life.

    For example, I often find myself giving a child lots of "warnings" and third, fourth, fifth, etc. chances. You get the idea. I let myself do this under the illusion that I am being loving and gentle. However, it always results in absolute catastrophe. Not only does the child continue in bad behavior, but I inevitably have a blow-up or melt-down of much worse porportions than if I had simply disciplined at the start. Not only am I frustrated with the behavior, but now I am anger that the child didn't appreciate how loving and good I was in giving him all those chances to make a better choice!!!

    Not long ago I realized I was giving all these extra warnming, not out of true charity, but out of either:

    1) sloth: didn't want to get up and deal with the situation,

    2) selfishness: didn't want to change what I was doing at that precise moment,

    3)pride: I was trying to show myself how I really was so loving and gentle and assauge my guilt and wounded pride for my lastest parenting mishap.

    I've realized that having CONSISTENT and IMMEDIATE discipline is by far the most best thing I can do as a mother. Working on these two areas really helps me avoid becoming anger or impatient in my discipline because I don't let things build up to a boiling point. Just like keeping kids fed on a regular schedule helps prevent melt-downs from low blood surgar, being very quick and consistent in discipline keeps me from having mommy meltdowns!

    Also, having a clear plan for discipline - knowing exactly what I am going to do and say in the event of disobedience, not sharing, bickering, whining, etc. - really helps me avoid anger and impatience, too. If I have to think about the discipline to much, the extra time just allows me to get more worked up. If I have an almost instant, trained reaction, it helps me deal with the situation quickly before either myself or the child can really dig in.

    Not that any of this is easy. It is just easier for me to work on being quick and consistent than on focusing on being patient and gentle. It's better for me to just avoid getting to a place where I'm going to be tested too much in that area.

  3. Great post and comments! Very helpful and something to definitely think and pray about.

  4. Maria, I love your comment! So true for me too.

    I just discovered (from watching a movie) that St. John Bosco was a disciple of our buddy St. Francis De Sales. I'm now using de Sales guideline "sweetness and determination." I find that when I'm disciplining I'm usually either "sweet" but in sloth, or "determined" but falling into anger. Trying to get those two virtues smoothly working together is my "mount Everest!"

  5. Abigail, thank you for the quote.

    Maria, thank you for your insights. Would you mind sharing what your discipline plan is? I am working on increasing my patience and gentleness, but I could very much use guidance on how to put those traits to better use, particularly while my children are still quite young (3 and not yet 1).

    - Heather

  6. I don't know what it is worth, but here you are...

    1. Pick your "no-negotiations" behaviors

    A few years ago I read a great Catholic parenting book called "Compass" by Jim Stevenson that really helped me out. I wanted to provide CONSISTENT - because I felt consistency was key and still do - discipline but got discouraged because I felt all I ever did was discipline. I felt I could never let anything slide because I would be inconsistent and confuse my children, setting them up for further failure, leading to further discipline, on and on. I was feeling like an over-critical, kill-joy, but felt it was what I needed to do.

    Stevenson really helped me here. You really do need to be consistent - but not about every kind of misbehavior. Some habits - like putting your clothes away or not tracking mud in or cleaning up toys - are behaviors that need to be learned but aren't a primary moral foundation. Though you tell your child to do these things, they often forget. But it usually is just forgetfulness, not a serious moral blunder. Displine them every few times about it to train them in good habits, but you don't need to be a total nag.

    Some behaviors are unacceptable all of the time because they form a moral basis for the child and their later development. He had three: direct disobedience, defiance, and lying. If you lose with your child on these areas, life is going to be very difficult for you - and them - in the teenage years, leading to further spiritual difficulties for them. These three areas are punished immediately, firmly, and seriously.

    It has made it much easier for me to just focus on seriously disciplining on the things that are really, really important. I actually am very consistent with discipling these areas, which has produced real results and led to less need for discipline since the kids don't misbehave as much. The other habits I can work on, picking and choosing what is needed in the family right now, without feeling like every little thing is of vital importance.

  7. As for my pre-packaged disciplines, they change over time as kids change. Certain punishments/rewards stop working and need to change. Here are some examples, though.

    1) Disobedience: I use a very low, firm tone (my husband's voice is very low and it works awesome!): "Jesus wants you to obey your mommy and daddy. It makes Jesus very sad and mommy very sad when you disobey." Then the child stands in the corner (nose in the corner, no toys, no talking) for a few minutes (usually the number of minutes equals their age). Then they must apologize to me for disobeying. Then I tell them they are forgiven, hug and kiss them, and tell them how much I love them.

    If I make a request and the child doesn't immediately obey, I give them a warning and a 5 count. They know they will be punished with a time-out. They usually obey by the time I get to 3. (My kids really, really hate to be alone. I think this is why the time-out works for them. You know your kids and can pick something that is a punishment: loss of tv, toys, dessert, copy lines, whatever. )

    2. Defiance: Pretty much the same line as disobedience. Usually, this is more of a fight, though, since this in more of an attitude (telling me "no!" to a request or contradicting me). They must stand in the corner until they are ready to apologize and comply. I once had my usually very compliant second child in the corner for almost an hour, crying the whole time. It was so hard, but she eventually decided she was making "Jesus sad" and apologized. I find I only have a real stand-off once or twice a year with each kid as long as I am strong and consistent with them in this area.

    3. Lying: We haven't had to deal with this much - just a few times - but I treat it a little differently. I never punish for a lie because they always eventually tell me the truth. I am very dramatic if I think a lie might be in the works. Lots of horror and sadness in my face at the thought of an untruth. I want them to realize that lying is very ugly and the truth very precious. I am very, very gentle with them once they have told the truth and praise them for being truthful.

    4. Whining: I. hate. whining. If someone asks me for something with a whiny voice, I immediately say, "Mommy can't hear whining. Can you ask again?" They usually immediately drop the whining voice. For just general whining, it is harder. If they continue after a warning, they must go to their room for a time-out. When they are able to join the family and be a joyful presence, they can.

    5. Toys: Picking up toys can be a battle in our house. Lately, I've taken to giving the kids 15 minutes to work on it, after assigning particular tasks to everyone so they have some direction. In fifteen minutes, I come down with a big plastic bag and just bag up what ever is on the floor. They can slowly earn the toys back over time for good behavior. I do this once or twice and suddenly pick-up time is much, much better. Until they forget about it two months later....and we repeat the process. It is a never-ending process!